American League playoff race heating up
Heading into the final week of the Major League Baseball season, the New York Yankees find themselves in familiar territory. For the sixth time this decade, the Bombers will be playing in October.
However, also for the sixth consecutive year, they have missed out on the American League East title.
The Yankees got off to a blistering start in the 2018 season, par for the course given the city’s annual lofty expectations. For almost any team in the league, New York’s season to this point would be cause for celebration. They have earned a 97-60 record as of Sept. 26, the third-best mark in baseball.
The team, though, has underwhelmed for extended stretches of the summer, highlighted by struggles against the historically dismal Baltimore Orioles and four straight losses to the rival Boston Red Sox. Consistent performance is vital in the postseason, as two or three bad games often cost a team its chances of advancing.
New York now finds itself stuck in the dreaded wildcard round – a one-game playoff with the winner moving on to the American League Divisional round.
The only thing standing between the Yankees and avoiding this fate is Boston.
The Red Sox stormed through their schedule, outscoring the Yankees and the rest of the majors behind MVP candidates Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. Boston also has stellar starting pitchers, led most notably by Chris Sale.
Boston’s major weakness remains its bullpen. The group has posted a 4.11 ERA in September against a relatively easy group of teams.
Just like New York with Aaron Boone, Boston has a rookie manager in Alex Cora. Cora is off to an excellent start to his tenure in the position.
Elsewhere in the American League, the dust has settled and the other playoff contenders have emerged.
The Cleveland Indians are the only winning club in the American League Central and clinched the division weeks ago.
The reigning champion Houston Astros, having built their core group of young stars in the years prior, won the AL West again. The division’s runner-up, the Oakland Athletics, are of more immediate concern to the Yankees, though.
The Athletics have clinched the second wildcard spot, and at 95-63, they sit just 2.5 games behind the Yankee entering the final week. Whichever team finishes with the better record will host the one-game playoff, saving a cross-country flight and, more importantly, ensuring home crowd advantage.
It may not be October yet, but the pressure of playoff baseball is already making its mark on teams down the stretch.
Kyle Beck can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @notkylebeck.